Original London Cast, 1986 (Po1ydor, 2CDs) (1 / 5) Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score for this virtually through-sung musical based on the famous novel by Gaston Leroux contains many wonderful melodies; unfortunately, as has been pointed out by sharp-eared critics, some of them are not quite original. Various tunes in The Phantom of the Opera owe much to the work of such composers as Claude Debussy, Giacomo Puccini, and Frederick Loewe. Of the songs that seem to be original, several are pretty but stylistically inappropriate to the time period in which the show is set; for example, “Think of Me,” with its aggressively dotted rhythms. For that matter, the arrangement of the title song makes it sounds like a disco number. Charles Hart’s lyrics (additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe) range in quality from good to poor. The most successful sections of the score are its lighter moments, particularly the “Notes” / “Prima Donna” sequence. Given the general level of the material, the performance is not bad overall. Michael Crawford is quite compelling as the Phantom; his mannerisms and odd vocal timbre are well suited to a character who’s supposed to be a freakish madman, and with the help of skillful audio engineering, Crawford delivers some spine-tingling high notes. His Christine, Sarah Brightman, sounds fine when singing in the middle of her range at a dynamic level no greater than mezzo forte, but her soprano thins out and become shrill when it rises in pitch and volume, and her vibrato is too heavy for the weight of her voice. Steve Barton sings well as Raoul, especially in the beautiful “All I Ask of You.” The recording gets one grudging star for its few nice moments, but don’t take that as a recommendation to buy it. A final insult: In its initial release, this two-CD set wasn’t tracked, so the only way you could skip to various sections of the score was to press and hold the forward or backward search buttons on your CD player. Reportedly, Lloyd Webber insisted on this, because he had conceived Phantom as a unified, complete work and wanted listeners to experience it as such. (No comment!) — Michael Portantiere
Original Canadian Cast, 1990 (Decca) (1 / 5) As the Phantom on this recording, Colm Wilkinson displays a strong, beautiful, emotionally expressive voice, yet some listeners will find his mannerisms and his Scottish accent intrusive. Also, the broad pseudo-British accents of several other members of the cast are laughably stilted. Rebecca Caine’s soprano is mediocre as heard in Christine’s songs, and her pronunciation is very poor. Byron Nease’s Raoul sounds fine when he’s not overacting and artificially darkening his voice. For some reason, many of the lyrics as set down on this recording are revisions of the originals — but the new versions aren’t superior, just different. This one-disc recording of the score’s “highlights” is a better option for purchase than the two-disc London album because it’s shorter, it’s cheaper, and you don’t have to sift through lots of dross to get to the few songs that are well written and aren’t based on the melodies of other composers. — M.P.